|Position||11th Prime Minister of Georgeland|
|Term in office||June 17, 1938 - May 14, 1948|
|Preceded by||Bertram Powell|
|Succeeded by||Nathan Keegan|
|Total time in office||9 years 10 months 30 days (3rd)|
|Born||March 19, 1897|
|Died||July 7, 1985|
The Hon. Arthur Fenton Thomas, MP, OG (March 19, 1897 - July 7, 1985), referred to as Fenton Thomas (he never used his given name of Arthur), was the 11th Prime Minister of the United Islands of Georgeland. Thomas was Prime Minister throughout the Second World War, though military readiness issues and trade concerns led him to declare Georgeland neutral until 1941. Thomas declared war on the Axis powers in December 1941 following Pearl Harbour and led Georgeland through the entirety of the war. A union leader by background, Thomas' administration granted more rights to workers and bolstered organised labour. He remains one of Georgeland's most popular Prime Ministers and a national symbol of the war effort.
Childhood and education
Thomas was born into a working-class family, the son of Douglas and Flora Thomas, Scottish immigrants. Thomas's father arrived in Georgeland in 1890. Thomas was the youngest of four sons. His father was employed as a miner in Bradmarch and later eastern Scoita. The elder Thomas was crippled by a serious back injury in 1905 and was never able to work again. Thomas's older brothers worked to sustain the family; Thomas himself began working in a factory at the age of fourteen.
Thomas recieved little formal schooling. His father taught him to read and write, and Thomas became an avid reader. He was enrolled in state schools until 1911 when he started work, and again, briefly, after the death of his father in 1914. Thomas returned to the factory in early 1915 only to leave again two weeks later to enlist for overseas military service. He served in Europe from late 1915, but was given a medical discharge in April 1916 after it was discovered he was profoundly deaf in his right ear.
Thomas returned to working in the factories throughout the First World War, first in a munitions factory and later in a motor parts factory in Emilypolis. The young Thomas was described by a fellow worker as a quiet bookish lad and was always seen with one book or another. It was during this period he became attracted to the works of Karl Marx, Engels and other writers on Socialism. After the Russian Revolution, Thomas became a dedicated Socialist but rejected some of the harsher elements of Communism.
Thomas became more outspoken against what he saw as unfair working conditions in his factory, and on several occasions had lengthy disputes with foremen and management. By 1920, Thomas had become devoted to the cause of workers' rights, and in that same year he helped organise the factory workers into a labor union. Thomas, while not the union's official leader, nonetheless played an active role in this union and its integration into the Federated Union of Georgeland Industrial Workers (FUGIW) in 1925. By this time Thomas had ironically left the factory to become a full-time union organiser. In 1926 he authored his first book, The Role of Trade Unionism In An Industrial Economy, which is now considered a collectors' item.
The Great Strike
In September 1928, eleven allied trade unions from around the country, from FUGIW to the Waterfront Workers Union to the construction unions, went on strike in protest against the sacking of six workers from a factory in Doubledance. The apparently small and trivial sacking blossomed, through sustained union campaigns, into a national protest movement demanding legislation be enacted guaranteeing a number of inaliable workers rights. The incumbent Labour government of Oscar Lyne was heavily defeated at the 1928 general election, largely as a result of the strike. Thomas played a significant role in the strike, not as a leader but as a detractor. Thomas, though he supported the cause of the strike, believed that the prolonged industrial action would be harmful to the country and to the union movement. In an article for the Globe and Standard, Thomas wrote:
- It is imperative for the good of the Country that the Trade Unionists end their strike. While their cause is just, it is best remembered that as long as the Trade Union Movement remains militant and presses for change through strikes and walkouts, those opposed to the Movement will become seen as the soft voices of reason and the Cause, however just, will fail.
The strike ended after the election, after the incoming Conservative government deployed the army to quell strikers. Almost as soon as the strike had ended, however, the Great Depression hit and hundreds of thousands of workers found themselves unemployed.
Thomas's role as a reasoned, measured voice during the Great Strike made him a national figure. Still only in his early thirties, Thomas was elected President of the Industrial Workers Union's Scoitan branch in 1929. Around the same time, he campaigned strongly for a republic, along with other Scoitan Catholics. Thomas believed Monarchy was inherently decadent and not conducive to an egalitarian state. He was delighted when Georgeland broke with the monarchy in July 1929.
In 1933, Thomas was elected President of the Georgeland United Trade Union Council (GTUC), but his skill at organising union meetings and his natural speaking talent and tactical mind soon came to the attention of the Labour Party. Thomas had been a member of the Party since 1927 but had not been active in its affairs. In October 1933, Thomas was approached by Labour officials who offered him selection as a Labour candidate for the Scoitan constituency of Emilypolis South. After initially procrastinating, Thomas agreed and stood for the seat at the general election of 1934.
Entry into Parliament
Thomas won election to Parliament at the 1934 general election and joined a Labour Party in opposition. The party's leader, Jack Heath, had been expecting larger gains, if not outright victory at the election. His failure to make this so led to considerable discontent amid Labour ranks. In January 1935, Heath pledged to resign if Thomas agreed to stand for the Deputy Leadership of the party, at the time held by Stuart McLeith. Thomas, who had been in Parliament only a few weeks, declined the offer. This was perhaps wise, as remaining outside the leadership (though he was his party spokesman on labour relations), allowed Thomas to continue his writing. In 1935 he published The Labour Tradition and The United Workers, as well as writing pieces for several major newspapers and magazines.
Heath's embattled leadership continued through 1935 and 1936, despite the aging leader (he turned 68 in 1936) suffering serious health problems. McLeith, as well as nine other party figures including Nathan Keegan and Richard Parker-Fields, resigned from the Opposition bench in November 1936, pledging to return only if Heath stood down as Leader and Thomas agreed to stand for election in his place.
Thomas was still only 39 years old and, despite his reservations about standing, reluctantly agreed for the sake of party unity. However, he refused to ask Heath to stand down, which only added to Labour's problems. With a general election looming in 1938, Fenton finally went to Heath in February and invited him to stand down. Heath agreed, though Thomas later wrote that Heath had to be 'firmly encouraged' to stand down and that McLeith and Keegan had also bene present at the time, adding force to Thomas's case.
At the ensuing leadership ballot, Fenton Thomas was elected as Labour's leader unanimously by acclamation. He offered Heath the position of Deputy Leader, but Heath declined. He died during the 1938 election campaign of a heart attack. Thomas later wrote that having to replace Heath, whom he deeply respected, was the hardest and 'most shattering' thing he had had to do during his political life.
As Leader of the Opposition, Thomas was determined to oust the incumbent Conservative government, particularly due to their policies on international relations. With war looming in Europe, Prime Minister Bertram Powell had already stated that Georgeland would help "defend Europe" if war came. Thomas saw Georgeland's participation in a European was as contrary to national interest. This put him at odds with many in the Labour party. However, he soon found that Labour was in a strong political position due to the increasing level of unemployment. Though opposed to a European war, Thomas attacked the government for a percieved lack of readiness to fight a Pacific war against Japan, which he saw as much more important.
At the 1938 General Election, fought largely around the employment issue rather than defence readiness, Thomas led the Labour Party to a substantial victory. Labour won 90 out of 164 seats in the Commons, a gain of sixteen and a working majority of the same amount.
Thomas was sworn in as Prime Minister by President Victor Martin on June 17, 1938. Martin and Thomas got on well and were united in their desire to improve conditions for the poor and to ensure Georgeland not participate in a European war. Thomas appointed a Cabinet who were largely inexperienced but which included many of his greatest opponents inside the Labour Party. These included McLeith, who was Minister for War, but also Andrew Douglas as External Affairs Minister and Norman Rainer as Treasurer. Thomas took the Labour portfolio for himself. He immediately instituted a number of reforms to industrial laws, including the Strikes and Pickets Act (1938), which for the first time guaranteed the right of workers to take industrial action.
"The Gathering Storm"
As war loomed ever closer in Europe, it became increasingly apparent that Georgeland would have to adopt a position on entry into the war. It was generally expected, and Conservative policy, that Georgeland would declare war on Germany at the urging of Britain. However, Thomas was resolutely determined to keep Georgeland out of the fighting. He was viciously attacked by the Conservative leader, Henry Baker, for his refusal to commit to defending Britain from Germany.
On September 1, 1939, the Second World War began as Germany invaded Poland. Churchill immediately cabled Thomas, insisting that Georgeland follow by declaring war on Germany. Thomas called an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the situation. Thomas insisted that Georgeland must be kept out of the fighting. A majority of Cabinet agreed when Thomas threatened to resign if Cabinet insisted on a declaration of war. McLeith, Rainer and Douglas all immediately resigned from Cabinet and from the Labour Party in protest and attacked the government in the House. Thomas took on the External Affairs and new Defence portfolios for himself and appointed Nathan Keegan, a keen supporter of Thomas and hitherto Minister for Customs, as the new Treasurer. In light of McLeith's resignation, Keegan was subsequently elected as deputy leader of the Labour Party and effectively Deputy Prime Minister, though no such official title existed at the time.
As the war continued in Europe, Thomas's government sent assistance to the Allies in the form of financial aid and a guarantee that Georgeland could be used as a safe harbour for Allied ships in the Indian Ocean. This did not satisfy Churchill, who continued to insist that Georgeland must join the effort by declaring war on Germany. Thomas steadfastly refused. The war of words continued for some weeks until Churchill, seeing that Thomas would not back down, renewed pressure on Roosevelt and the United States.
On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbour. The United States immediately declared war on Japan, and subsequently Germany and Italy as well. Roosevelt contacted Thomas, with Churchill's backing, and reiterated the need for Georgeland to commit to the war.
Thomas and the Cabinet met on December 8 to discuss entry into the war. They were joined by the British ambassador, Charles Gullett and the American ambassador, Henry Talbot. The Cabinet records show Thomas unsure as to a course of action, with the Cabinet divided. Keegan, as well as External Affairs minister Gordon Branson and Home Affairs Minister Geoffrey Goush favoured intervention, while Trade minister Andrew Donahue and Health minister Robert Edwards remained opposed.
Finally, a direct appeal from Roosevelt, whom Thomas admired, persuaded Thomas that Georgeland must commit to the war effort. With Japan a direct threat to the British Empire in the Pacific, if India and Australia fell, or even Singapore and the East Indies, Georgeland would be directly threatened. Thomas agreed, and informed Cabinet on the morning of December 9 that he intended to declare war on Japan. There were no resignations from Cabinet, though Donahue publicly expressed his disappointment.
At 2:15 pm on the 9th of December, 1941, Georgeland declared war on Japan. The following day, Germany and Italy, in line with treaty obligations, declared war on Georgeland. The nation was now at war.
Georgeland's predominant contribution to the war was in the Pacific arena. Thomas authorised the dispatch of 3,000 troops to the defence of Indochina, while instigating a massive forces recruitment drive at home. Between December 1941 and June 1942, more than three hundred thousand men had volunteered for wartime service. Contingents were sent to North Africa, Indochina, Singapore and also to Britain, where more than three hundred pilots served with the Royal Air Force.
At home, Thomas appointed Keegan as Minister for National Service and enacted legislation to nationalise several major industries for the duration of the war. This caused tension with the Conservative opposition, who suggested Thomas was using the war to enact a Socialist agenda, a claim Thomas rejected as absurd. Thomas invited the Conservatives to join him in a National Government, but the Tory leader, Baker, refused outright to serve under Thomas and agreed to a coalition only if he was appointed as Prime Minister. Thomas rejected Baker's rather brash proposal.
At the height of the war, in July 1942, Thomas called a general election. The election was fought on the government's wartime policies. Thomas campaigned as the "Win-the-War" candidate. The result was a landslide victory for Labour, the largest victory to that time and the largest majority in the Commons in history. After the election, Thomas himself took on the Treasury portfolio as well as Defence, and appointed Keegan as Minister for External Affairs. He also extended the olive branch to McLeith and Rainer, appointing them Minister for National Service and Minister for Post-War Development respectively.
As the war continued, Thomas continued to be troubled by the loss of life. He slept little for much of 1942 and 1943 - not until the Japanese began to retreat in the face of an American assault on their occupied islands did he begin to rest, seeing an end in sight to the war. He reluctantly committed Georgeland troops to the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, though the loss of life on the Normandy campaign troubled him deeply.
During the war, Thomas forged strong relationships with Roosevelt and the Australian leader, John Curtin, though he was known to dislike Churchill intensely and did not trust Stalin, who he saw as a traitor to the Socialist ideal. When Curtin died in July 1945, Thomas was visibly shaken and personally attended his funeral. He had been similarly distressed upon Roosevelt's death two months previously. The loss of two steadfast allies did little for Thomas's fragile spirit, and he sank into a depression during the closing months of the war.
Thomas was not invited to the Yalta conference of 1945, at Churchill's insistence. Despite the snub, Thomas gave his consent for Roosevelt to speak for Georgeland as well as the United States, which he did.
With the end of the war, Thomas took a long holiday with his family in Spain and was gone for three months. While there, Thomas wrote:
- The war has claimed Roosevelt and Curtin as casualties. It has claimed millions of sons, millions of fathers, millions of mothers and sisters. What type of creature is Man that he does such a thing to his own. I stand with Churchill and Stalin as the only Allied leaders to survive the conflict. What does that say about the horrors of war?
With the end of the war, Thomas's government embarked on an ambitious post-war expansion program. A number of the programs begun during the war were continued, including the nationalising of certain industries. Chief among these was the railroads. With the railroads under federal control, Thomas' government was able to instigate a national upgrade of infrastructure, including the building of more than 2,000 miles of track across the country, mostly in Mainland. The renewed infrastructure brought greater economic growth, particularly in areas suffering from a post-war economic downturn.
The 1946-1950 period also saw an increase in European immigration, particularly from Italy, Eastern Europe and other areas affected by the war. Approximately one million new arrivals entered Georgeland between 1946 and 1949, with another three million to arrive within the next two decades.
At the general election of 1946, Thomas won a third term in office. Baker stepped down as Tory leader in favour of the younger Bradford Smith.
The rigours of the war had taken their toll on Thomas, who had noticably aged since taking power. Even after the conclusion of the war, Thomas had nightmares about the millions of casualties. He slept little and by early 1948 the stress had begun to affect his health. Thomas suffered bouts of very deep and severe depression, and in October 1947 developed angina. Thomas's health problems were largely concealed from the public and even from Parliament.
In February 1948, after the death of his father, Thomas went on leave and it was later revealed he suffered from depression so serious his family had feared he would attempt suicide. Thomas later wrote that he often thought of taking his own life.
In May 1948, a visibly weakened and frail Thomas announced to Parliament, broadcast on national radio, Thomas announced he would step down as Prime Minister after ten years in the position. Thomas recieved an ovation from all Parliamentarians upon conclusion of his speech, the only time this has happened in Georgeland's history (normally, applause is not given after Parliamentary speeches. Only foreign leaders who address Parliament are normally applauded).
Thomas also resigned from the House of Commons on the same day. The Labour Party met just after the speech and elected Nathan Keegan as Thomas's successor. Thomas then formally resigned by returning his commission to the President, Arthur Pryde, and left Topstad for his home in Emilypolis.
Thomas's retirement was the end of an era in Georgeland politics. At the time of his retirement, Thomas was still only fifty years old. He considered himself 'in the prime of life' and devoted himself to a variety of causes.
In 1950 he was elected as President of the National Society for Constitutional Reform. He remained in this capacity until 1958, when many of the reforms the Society had pressed for were adopted.
Thomas was also an advocate of joining the United Nations after 1950. Georgeland had not joined the UN after its formation, partly due to Cabinet hostility and partly due to public sentiment (the League of Nations had always been unpopular in Georgeland). Thomas had been forced to shelve plans to join, but after leaving office continued to pressure successive governments, including Keegan's, to ratify the treaty. Georgeland eventually joined the United Nations in 1952.
Thomas campaigned for the Labour Party at the general elections of 1950, which it lost, and 1954, which it won. In 1958, Thomas did not actively campaign but worked behind the scenes - Labour again lost the election and Keegan resigned as leader.
In 1962, after the Labour Party failed to return to power, the idea was canvassed that the 65-year-old former Prime Minister be "drafted" into a Parliamentary seat to again lead the party, hopefully to victory in 1966. Thomas, flattered and touched by the idea, nonetheless rejected it.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Thomas was an active member of the peace movement. He wrote many articles critical of the Vietnam War and was an influential figure in the (successful) movement to keep Georgeland out of the war. Thomas was also critical of Israel during the 1967 six-day war.
Thomas continued to lead an active lifestyle well into his seventies, writing for a number of newspapers and contributing to national debates on many topics. He remained a devoted Socialist and was delighted when Victor Howard led Labour to victory in 1970 after twelve years in opposition. He served as an unofficial adviser to Howard and to his successor, Bradley Van Goen.
In 1976, Thomas suffered a severe stroke which greatly impaired his motor functions. He was confined to a wheelchair for most of the last decade of his life.
Thomas's autobiography, My Memories, was released in 1979 and became a best-seller overnight. Thomas declined to keep most of the royalities, instead donating them to charity.
Thomas became more and more infirm in his late seventies, and suffered another stroke in 1982 that did severe damage to his higher brain functions. He was cared for by his daughter and her husband until 1984, when he was permanently transferred to St. Patrick's Hospital in Emilypolis, where he spent the last eighteen months of his life.
Thomas made some small recovery in early 1985, enough for historian and journalist Michael Marshall to record a four-hour audio interview with Thomas, which was released by the GBC Radio in 1986. At times during the interview, Thomas sounds quite relaxed and lucid, and there is barely any sign of his impaired mental state. At other times, the damage to his brain is clearly noticable as his speech is slurred and his memory extremely inaccurate.
Fenton Thomas died on July 7, 1985, at the age of eighty-eight. His body lay in state at the Great Hall of the Georgeland Houses of Parliament for four days. He was buried on July 11 in a large state funeral, and finally laid to rest at Cathedral Grove Cemetary in Emilypolis.
Thomas has earned a place as one of Georgeland's most well-known and loved Prime Ministers. His ambitious reform program after the war created a number of national institutions that still exist today, while his conduct of the war is remembered for its success and for keeping Georgeland secure from direct military attack.
Thomas is hailed in Georgeland as a hero of the political Left. He has been called The Last Socialist because of the strength of his socialist views, and his opposition to the rise of the centre and economic conservatism within the Labour movement in the 1970s.
In the 2007 TV program Georgeland's Greatest Prime Minister, the panel and the voting public awarded Thomas first place.
In popular culture
- Thomas was played by Gordon McAllen in the TV miniseries A Man Called Thomas, broadcast in 1986.
- In 1996, James Kennedy portrayed the wartime leader in the movie Mister Thomas Goes to War, released in theatres to critical acclaim and box-office success.
- Thomas was featured in an episode of the children's cartoon series 'Round Georgeland. He was voiced by Roy Brandis.
- As the sky blackens over Europe, we must stand firm in our resolution to keep our own skies clear. We shall not fail in this task if we are strong and our will prevails - our will to keep our sons from perishing on a distant shore. - speech to the House of Commons, September 1, 1939
- I am, have always been, and ever will be, the servant of the working man. - 1940.
|Prime Minister of Georgeland|
June 17, 1938 - May 14, 1948